Monday, January 31, 2011

Results of preliminary poll of committee members who’ll consider LB 566

Etopia News today conducted a preliminary poll of the members of the Nebraska State Legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee to gauge the climate surrounding Legislative Bill 566 (LB 566), a proposed law by Nebraska State Senator Paul Schumacher that would let Nebraska’s registered voters sign initiative and other official petitions electronically, online.

Senator Schumacher is on this committee, and, since it’s his bill, he will, of course, be working to get it approved by the committee.

Senator Scott Price, a small business owner and the Senator from District 3, said that “conceptually, I’m agreeable,” with the idea of letting citizens sign initiative petitions online, but that he had concerns regarding the cost of implementing the online signature-gathering system. He said he’d wait until the hearing on the bill to make up his mind.

Senator Rich Pahls, a retired educator who represents District 31, told Etopia News that he had “not made a decision [on the bill].” “I haven’t delved into it; it’s not on my list of priorities,” he said, adding that he would “see what happens in committee” at the hearing on the bill. He said he’d have more to say after the hearing.

A spokesperson for Senator Lydia Brasch, who represents District 16, said that her boss would “sit through the hearing” before making up her mind on the bill.

Staffers in the offices of Senator Charlie Janssen, a former Rescue Swimmer in the U.S. Navy who represents the 15th District, and Senator Russ Karpisek, owner and operator of Karpisek’s Meat Market and the representative of District 32, said they would check with their bosses about their views on LB 566 and call back with that information.

As mentioned in a previous Etopia News article about the bill’s prospects in the committee, Senator Bill Avery, who represents District 28 and chairs the committee, “is generally in favor of using technology to advance electoral processes,” and previously introduced a similar bill, according to committee Legal Counsel Christy Abraham.

Since it was after 5 pm Central Standard Time when the call to her was made, no one picked up in the office of Senator Kate Sullivan, who represents the 41st District.

Mixed prospects ahead for LB 566 in committee

Nebraska’s Legislative Bill 566 (LB 566), which would create a system for online initiative petition-signing in the Cornhusker state, faces mixed prospects of success in the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

On the one hand, according to Christy Abraham, legal counsel for the committee, the committee chair, Senator Bill Avery, is “generally in favor of using technology to advance electoral processes.” In fact, Senator Avery introduced a bill in the last session that would have set up such a system for online, electronic signing of initiative petitions.

On the other hand, that bill failed to get out of committee. Also, according to Ms. Abraham, given the financial situation in Nebraska and throughout the country, “anything that’s going to cost any money will have trouble getting out of committee.”

Just how much LB 566 would cost the state will be the subject of research and calculation by the unicameral legislature’s Legislative Fiscal Office, which will release a report on the bill’s fiscal impact the day before the bill’s public hearing.

That public hearing, according to Ms. Abraham, will take place “sometime in February or perhaps early March.”

The Nebraska legislature is in session until “mid-June.” In order to be approved by the body, bills need to be approved by their respective committees by March 17th.

Ms. Abraham told Etopia News that it would be hard to gauge committee support for the bill at this point because the committee has a lot of new members.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paul Jacob, President of Citizens in Charge, discusses the initiative process

Paul Jacob, President of Citizens in Charge, talks about the importance of the initiative process and discusses efforts in Nebraska to pass "Smart Initiatives" legislation, recorded from Woodbridge, Virginia, on January 30, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Paul Jacob, President of Citizens in Charge, strongly supports LB 566

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge, “a 501(c)(4) citizen-powered advocacy organization that serves as a partner to Citizens in Charge Foundation in protecting and expanding the initiative and referendum process. The organization works with activists, legislators, media, opinion leaders and voters to protect the initiative and referendum process where it exists in 24 states and to expand the process to the 26 states where voters currently lack that right.”

Following up its initial coverage of Legislative Bill 566, a proposed law now pending in the unicameral Nebraska Legislature that would allow Nebraska voters to sign initiative, recall, and referendum petitions electronically online, Etopia News contacted Mr. Jacob to get his views on this measure. Here’s what he had to say:

“Millions of Americans electronically sign important financial documents every day at their bank and virtually every place they shop. It’s high time that state governments allow this technology to be used by citizens wanting to sign petitions for ballot measures. Citizens in Charge supports LB 566 and applauds Nebraska Senator Schumacher for introducing his e-signature legislation to bring the petition process into the 21st century and allow more people to participate in their government. While the fees the bill would impose on the sponsors of initiative and referendum petitions in order to allow their use of electronic signatures are higher than we believe necessary, use of the online electronic signature-gathering system would be completely voluntary and would no doubt create a far less expensive method of petitioning. Nebraska can take the national lead in putting technology to work to improve the democratic process by passing this legislation.

“Senator Schumacher’s bill is especially important because Nebraska is the most difficult state in the country for citizens to petition to place an initiative on the ballot. Not only is the state’s signature requirement the highest in the nation, but in 2008 the legislature passed severe restrictions on who can circulate petitions and how they can be paid. There are currently two lawsuits in federal court, one filed by Citizens in Charge, challenging the state’s unconstitutional and draconian petition rules. LB 566 is a pond of cool water in a scorching desert.”

Hearings on the bill are expected “late in February,” according to an informed source in the Nebraska state capital, Lincoln.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nebraska's LB 566 would implement Smart Initiatives in the Cornhusker State

At the turn of the 21st Century, after a failed effort to implement Internet voting in California, this reporter made an effort to find “common ground” with some of its detractors by proposing in its place the idea of “Smart Initiatives,” which would allow registered voters to electronically sign initiative, recall, and referendum petitions online. You can read a short explanation of the concept here. You can read a lot more about it, including text of testimony presented to the Speaker's Commission on the California Initiative Process on January 22, 2001, here. You can listen to that testimony by downloading an audio file here.

Ten years later, a courageous and visionary state senator in Nebraska, Paul Schumacher, has introduced a bill into that state’s unicameral legislature to implement Smart Initiatives in the heart of the heartland. The introduction of this proposed law, Legislative Bill 566 (LB 566) is briefly reported on on the web site here.

Etopia News has not yet been able to speak to either Senator Schumacher or to the clever legislative staffer or staffers who drafted it, but it’s already clear that the bill carefully and comprehensively addresses many of the crucial and problematic elements needed for a successful Smart Initiatives implementation.

One particularly elegant solution embedded in this proposal addresses the need to identify and authenticate electronic, online signers of ballot initiatives, referendums, and recalls (hereinafter, “initiatives”). Rather than requiring every state voter to acquire a digital certificate, as envisioned by the original Smart Initiatives system, the proposed Nebraska system would allow voters to identify and authenticate themselves using “state qualified data,” which would include a variety of sources:

“a valid voter identification number issued or assigned by the Secretary of State, an audit trail of which is maintained by the Secretary of State; a qualifying self-assigned personal identification number preregistered by an eligible signer with the Secretary of State or an election commissioner or county clerk; a personal identification number on a state tax return filed with the Department of Revenue; a unique access code or other unique electronic identifier assigned or approved by a state agency for use in identifying a party in communications with the state agency and which the Secretary of State has integrated into the electronic signature process; or other data which is maintained for purposes of identification by a state agency or county agency independently of the voter registration register and which is accessible by the Secretary of State.”

Voters can also establish their online credentials by making a contribution to the State’s Petition Operations Fund with a debit or credit card and then using that transaction as their “state qualified data” enabling them to sign the petition online.

Opponents of Smart Initiatives previously raised the specter of fraudulently-submitted signatures gumming up the process. This objection was countered long ago by proposing the simple expedient of sending notifications to all alleged signers, allowing them to easily complain that their names had been falsely added to the signatures list and to get them removed.

The proposed Nebraska Smart Initiatives law implements this common sense solution, specifying that:

“Upon receipt of an electronic signature, the Secretary of State shall mail a post card by United States mail to the signer at the address on his or her voter registration record notifying the signer that his or her signature has been received, identifying the petition to which the signature is attached, and notifying the signer that he or she has ten days to contact the office of the Secretary of State to indicate that he or she did not submit the signature.”

As with the original Smart Initiatives proposal, the Nebraska version specifies that opponents and proponents of every initiative will be able to link their online arguments to the central web site that will contain the complete text of the initiative and provide the opportunity for voters to sign it.

One provision not included in the original Smart Initiatives plan is a plan to charge proponents of statutory initiatives $5,000 to cover expenses of the process, and to charge proponents of constitutional amendments $10,000 for that purpose. Reading the fine print of the proposed law, however, reveals that “A petition sponsor who cannot afford the filing fee may file a qualifying affidavit in lieu of the filing fee.” The proposed law is subtle, too, making provision to prevent false claims of poverty:

“If the petition sponsor reports to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission fifty thousand dollars or more in aggregate contributions in support of the petition or ten thousand dollars or more in aggregate contributions from a petition sponsor, the qualifying affidavit ceases to have effect and the petition sponsor shall pay the appropriate filing fee before further use of electronic signatures for such petition is permitted.”

The bill also includes a provision that will be of great help to circulators: “The Secretary of State shall make public on a county-by-county basis, at least once each week, the number of electronic signatures collected for each petition.”

LB 566 has been referred to the unicameral legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Senator Bill Avery. If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, it will go into effect on January 1, 2012.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Stanford criminal law professor provides guidelines for considering allegedly “misleading” statement from climate change-denier Pat Michaels

Etopia News ran an article yesterday about an allegedly “misleading” statement about where he gets his money from the Cato Institute’s Dr. Patrick Michaels before Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2009.

On February 12, 2009, Dr. Michaels told the committee that he got “three percent” of his income from polluting energy firms. Later, on August 15, 2010, he told the public on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program GPS that the true figure was “forty percent.”. Rep. Waxman, now the Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee due to the Republicans’ recent take-over of the House of Representatives, has asked the new Chairman, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, to ask Michaels to meet with committee staff to clarify this discrepancy.

Meanwhile, Stanford Law School Professor Robert Weisberg has provided Etopia News and its readers with some background material regarding the law that governs such issues. Here’s what he had to say:

“There are essentially two ways to win a conviction in a case like this. One would be to prove he flat-out lied about a provable factual proposition. This would be perjury if the witness was under oath or for false statements if he wasn't. The standard here is difficult for the government if the question or answer was at all vague or ambiguous. You have to catch an outright intentional lie on a clean factual question. So the reference to 40 percent may be too vague or speculative to be intentionally "false." The other route is to charge contempt where the witness was formally required under subpoena to provide Congress certain information and he failed to do so, knowing that it was covered by the subpoena.

“The contradiction in the two Michaels statements would be some evidence toward a false statements charge but probably not a contempt charge. In the latter case it would have to be shown that he was trying to cut off a line of inquiry to prevent Congress from learning something it was entitled to know. In any event, the devil will all be in the details.”

Having this background provided by Professor Weisberg can provide some basis for understanding the liability that Dr. Michaels may have regarding his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2009.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Representative Waxman wants climate change-denier to clarify where he gets his money

U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), formerly chairman and now the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the current chairman, Fred Upton (R-MI), to recall prominent climate change-denier Dr. Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute in order to determine if Dr. Michaels “misled” the committee when he told it in 2009 that he got only 3% of his funding from industries with an interest in debunking claims of climate change.

Dr. Michaels reluctantly admitted on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program on CNN that the real proportion of his income from fossil-fuel-based energy sources is “40%.”

In a letter requesting that Chairman Upton ask Dr. Michaels to meet with committee staffers to clarify his disparate statements, Rep. Waxman cites a mention of Dr. Michaels admission on the Politico website, an item which in turn is based upon the climate expert’s statement on Zakaria’s show, made on August 15, 2010.

The Cato Institute itself would not comment on this issue, and Dr. Michaels has not returned a call asking for his reaction to Ranking Member Waxman’s request.

A request to Rep. Upton’s office for a comment on the letter elicited this e-mail response from a GOP committee aide:

“Republicans first put truth-in-testimony requirements in place in 1995 and strengthened those requirements earlier this month (over the objections, it could be noted, of House Democrats). Chairman Upton has been clear about his commitment to transparency in the legislative process, and under his leadership the committee will adhere to both the letter and the spirit of truth-in-testimony requirements and other committee rules and practices.”

There’s been no reply yet to a specific inquiry regarding Rep. Upton’s plans to re-call, or not to re-call, Dr. Michaels to clarify his statements.

Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg provided Etopia News with a reference to the pertinent federal legal standards and penalties () regarding false testimony (18 USC Section 1001):

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully -
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

An inquiry to the U.S. Department of Justice asking if it was pursuing an investigation into this matter had not elicited a response as of the time this article was posted.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Peter Esposito talks about the Southwest Energy Alliance

Peter Esposito, President of the newly-created Southwest Energy Alliance, talks about the group's membership, mission, and activities, recorded from Tucson, Arizona, on January 21, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

84,000 Oregonians have used online system to register to vote, but no one there is interested in using an online system to sign initiative petitions

Since March 1, 2010, citizens of Oregon have been able to register to vote using an online system based on verifying their identity by using their Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registration data. Any Oregon resident who is a citizen of the United States and at least 17 years old can use this system, at:, to register to vote in Oregon elections.

According to Andrea Cantu-Schomus, spokesperson for the Office of the Oregon Secretary of State, 84,000 people have availed themselves of this opportunity since the system was activated.

Despite the ability of Internet technology to use a similarly-based system to validate citizen signatures on online petitions, also using their driver’s license data, there has been, according to Ms. Cantu-Schomus, “no record of interest in using this online system to sign initiative petitions.”

The European Union (EU) is in the process of developing a system to collect at least one million signatures in support of proposed pan-EU initiatives, including building an online signature-gathering capability for use in qualifying these initiatives. To hear an Etopia News interview with Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Institute for Initiative and Referendum-Europe, at:

Residents of Washington State can also use an online system to register to vote, available at: Residents of Indiana can register online to vote at:

There have been reports that the State of California is also considering a similar system, allowing resident citizen Californians to register online to vote using their DMV data, but a call to the Secretary of State’s Office in Sacramento seeking information about this had not been returned as this article was being posted.

The State Supreme Court of Utah ruled in September, 2010, that “electronic signatures are as valid as handwritten signatures in qualifying independent candidates who seek to get their names on the general election ballot,” according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

John Farrell on creating jobs with renewable energy

John Farrell, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, talks about its new report, "Maximizing Jobs from Clean Energy: Ontario's 'Buy Local' Policy," recorded from Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chuck DeVore says he won't run agains Sen. Feinstein

Chuck DeVore, former California Assemblymember, expresses his views on a multitude of political subjects, and says he won't run against incumbent U.S. Senator from California Dianne Feinstein, recorded on January 5, 2011

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tween Years of the 21st Century will be a wild and crazy waiting period

As the 21st century enters its tween years, it might be useful to consider the time between now and, say, 2014, when we observe the centennial of the start of World War I, as a single unit. This will be a transitional era, demarcated at its end by the stated NATO deadline for the complete Afghanization of the war there. Its mid-point will be the 2012 presidential election in the U.S., between incumbent Democrat Barack Obama and, most likely, Republican challenger Sarah Palin.

This will be a period during which the economy will continue to improve by some measures but the number of jobless will remain more or less constant, and higher than at any time since the Great Depression. Social communication and information dissemination via the Internet, increasingly through smart phones, will continue to intensify and proliferate, creating an infrastructure capable of transmitting and amplifying cultural and political memes at astounding speed and with staggering effect.

With employment stagnant and the Internet surging, waves of change will continue to wash over American society, creating constantly-changing subcultures, divided by class, region, and age, some local, some regional, and others national and even global. Entertainment programming and its ancillary celebrity machine will be super-charged by the rise of more and more powerful platforms for its promulgation.

The celebrity-entertainment-consumption machine has emerged from the economic downturn strengthened and more critical to the economy than ever. Corporations can now spend all they want to elect candidates of their choice and defeat ones inimical to their interests. Under Citizens United, We can expect even more application of advertising and market research to the political process, blurring the distinction between political campaigns and consumer product development, launches, and marketing campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Chinese will continue to widen their lead in the development and deployment of renewable energy, while opportunities for the U.S. to become a leader in this area continue to be lost. Despite increasing numbers and severity of climate perturbations in the U.S. and around the world, belief in climate change and the need to change consumption behavior will remain principally a life-style affectation, with little impact on public policy or the course of global warming.

With Tea Party Republicans in the driver’s seat in the House of Representatives, we can expect wild and crazy debates about a new range of issues. With Democrats still barely in control of the Senate and, of course, the White House, Republicans in the House will be free to indulge themselves in whatever beliefs and pronouncements they care to, without effect, except as advertising for the 2012 campaign and as fodder for news programs.

Downward mobility and growing income disparities mean that overall demand will not be sufficient to re-employ the reserve army of the former middle class. A new television series, based on the travails of an unemployed, foreclosed, and marginally-homeless family may or may not appear on our screens, but they will be, nevertheless, the specter haunting tween America, as we wait for our teen years and even more trouble.

Bruno Kaufmann talks about the European Citizens' Initiative

Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Institute for Initiative and Referendum-Europe, explains the operation of the newly-approved European Citizens' Initiative, which will allow 1 million Europeans to propose laws for the European Union through the initiative process, recorded from Falun, Sweden, on January 2, 2011